Students Find Rich Rewards in Helping Disabled Children

Article excerpt

Byline: Carolyn C. Armistead Daily Herald Correspondent

Elmhurst College student Hugh Hardman said he didn't know what to expect the first day he faced a class of 3- to 5-year-old children with behavior disorders. He was there to fulfill an assignment for a class about adapted physical education.

Although Hardman said he was apprehensive about the assignment, by the time he arrived for his third visit, the children were racing to meet him. And one little boy, who was silent and afraid at the beginning, was participating happily in simple sports and games led by Hardman.

"It was definitely rewarding," Hardman said.

The program, which matches up disabled children and adults with student volunteers as part of a course requirement, is offered by the Northeast DuPage Special Recreation Association. Karen Cerveny, coordinator of support services for NEDSRA, said that the association provides special recreation services at no cost for people of all ages with disabilities, offering such activities as swimming lessons, crafts and social get-togethers.

"We often work with park districts," Cerveny said. "We use their facilities, our own facilities or private businesses, such as restaurants or bowling alley."

In order to keep the activities cost-free, NEDSRA often relies on the help of volunteers.

"I think it's a good set-up," Hardman said of the student program. "College students need the experience, and NEDSRA needs the assistance."

Ray Smith, Hardman's instructor at Elmhurst College, said that many of his students want to teach physical education, but they need to have experience working with disabled children even if they want to teach mainstream classes. Working directly with disabled people in the NEDSRA program teaches his students about disabilities and how to adapt their activities, he said.

"If, for example, they have an amputee in their class, they need to know how to work with the student," Smith said.

Another of Smith's students, Dino Amendola, 20, said his work with NEDSRA reminded him of how much he enjoyed working with disabled children - something he did at the Special Olympics a few years ago. …